Wisconsin Eyes Amtrak Route Expansion

Aug 30, 2013

Scott Walker rose to the governor’s seat in a campaign that pledged – among other things – to kill plans for high-speed rail in Wisconsin. 

But even as the Governor followed through with that promise – rail is continuing to thrive in the state.  

Recent monthly passenger records set on the Hiawatha line, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, and the Empire Builder, which takes Milwaukee passengers to the Twin Cities, have the state DOT considering whether to facilitate additional trains on the schedule.

"It’s hard to think of a passenger train success story coming out of Wisconsin," says Matt Van Hattem, senior editor at Trains magazine, "but the fact is the Hiawatha service that Amtrak runs now is one of the top 10 rail corridors in the US.  And so the state wants to build on that success."

Amtrak's Hiawatha route runs from Milwaukee to Chicago's Union Station (pictured).
Credit Mitch Teich photo

And Van Hattem says without additional trains, potential growth is limited.  "The [current] trains are just about maxed out," he says.  "You're in a six-car train that seats 420 people - some of these trains are standing room only."

Van Hattem says one of the Hiawatha route studies under consideration by the Wisconsin DOT is called the Service Plan.  "That's looking at adding three more trains a day, each way, between Chicago and Milwaukee," to increase the number of daily roundtrips to 10.  The three new roundtrips would be express trains, running at a faster speed and with fewer stops than the current trains.

A second study is also underway, looking at the feasibility of adding another train on the Empire Builder route, running from Chicago, through Milwaukee, to the Twin Cities.